I write this as I’m preparing for my sabbatical which begins Monday February 4th. What this means for you all is that I will be unavailable for a period of time extending through May 7th. I will not be answering calls, e-mails, or even visits to my home. This will seem shocking to some. As I shared during the sabbatical forums, pastoral ministry has the tendency to be messy. While I’m one of your pastors, I also share in full relationship with many of you. These roles are not divided evenly, if they can be divided at all. Some of you are my closest friends. I am asking that you show me the grace of allowing me to withdraw from our personal relationship, for a season, so that I may have a true pastoral sabbatical.
Back in December, Gravity Leadership came and spoke with the session and employees of the church. Kristin Dooley, a part of Gravity Leadership and author of the book “Bigger,” opened our time together with a message that came from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
There are two prunings here. The first pruning is of all the dead branches. This first pruning is low to the ground – this pruning is easy and involves getting rid of the easy things. You know – the dead stuff. Things we’re doing that don’t serve us and we know it. It’s a welcome surgery when these dead branches are broken off. The second pruning? God is looking for the branches that are fruitful. God prunes back what is bearing fruit. In other words, God will take away what is blossoming. What?
Kristin shared that she loved her ministry, and it had multiplied immensely – yet she had been called to leave the church. She remembers praying to God “Why is my ministry satisfying and fulfilling and it is being taken from me? Why are you taking it from me?”
She went on to share that when the Lord is trying to take something from us, we just want to cover it up. We want to fill it with something else. Well of course! When we’re pruned, God leaves us bare, and we just want to cover our bareness. We can read about this in Genesis in the very beginning with good ol’ Adam and Eve, and we can easily see this in our own lives. If we’re willing. Many of us cover our bareness with constant activity, or with fixing our ‘outsides’ in an attempt to cover our insides (or with ‘fixing’ other people which is just as unfortunate), or with our addictions whether they be to a substance or to our job or to fulfilling the whims of our egos. When we’re bare, everything about us is exposed to the truth. We resist participating in the pruning because we are afraid to lose what makes us, us. But when we’re stripped bare, much like the trees in the winter, our roots grow deeper.
In my case, I’m giving God my branches. I’ve learned that when I resist what God is doing in my life, it causes me much more pain than if I just go with it. Frankly, I feel my ministry is the best it’s ever been in 14 years. At the same time, I’ve learned that when God asks me for something, I best surrender it.
I want my roots to grow deeper. I want God to take away what is taking all my attention so that I can go deeper, and be prepared for God’s Will that is coming. When I return to you in May, I will be starting again, but this time at a deeper level.
My earnest desire is that you honor this time, both for my benefit and certainly for yours.
For as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
In His Service,